The Portas review, one year on

IdeasThere’s a paradox at the heart of the pop up movement; how can something temporary be a permanent solution?

Right now, we have more empty shops than ever before and pop ups and empty shops have come to be part of the same agenda to many people. They’re not though. Pop up is a way of life and a method of working that has been around for some time, which just happens to have become more noticeable because of the recession.

You have to look beyond the idea of shops being permanent, physical spaces; get to grips with businesses that use many different channels to reach customers; and understand the idea of an agile methodology.

In short, a permanent, year-round business might not need a shop in one place for all 365 days. It might need different spaces for different projects, or only need a physical space at key times, or want to travel around the country. It can be primarily based online, with just occasional forays into the real world to meet customers. Or consider seaside towns, which have high vacancy rates now, and remember that they have a surplus of shops because many would only have opened in peak season.

Creative people have known this for a long time; touring theatre companies pop up in an established network of venues, bands don’t have permanent spaces but go on tour and pop up where their fans are, and artists exhibit when they have enough work to sell. All of those are sustainable year-round businesses which have adopted a pop up way of working.

Mary Portas never got that pop ups are more than a passing trend.

Her review was based on a big assumption; that the high street is dead to start with. Of course, for her clients at Yellow Door, that might be the case. We’ve seen lots of big chains collapse since 2008, taking hundreds of thousands of jobs and leaving medium to large stores empty. But in 2011, there was a net gain in the number of independent shops opened and while that growth has slowed in 2012, it’s still healthy. The clone town is dead, but the older model of small, local businesses is doing very well. Consider as well all the people running online shops, and the old cliché ring trues. We’re a nation of shopkeepers.

Consider pop ups differently, and remember that the local high street is doing well, and you have a very different picture to the ‘high street is dead’ orthodoxy.

This article was originally commissioned by Action For Market Towns for their Portas Review – One Year On collection.

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